Rams CB Troy Hill on transition to slot: “I’m trying to age like fine wine.”
Eric D. Williams
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Troy Hill is about taking the changes in his life as they come.
So when the Los Angeles Rams said this offseason they would like him to move inside to slot defender, replacing former teammate Nickell Robey-Coleman, Hill was up for the challenge.
“This is my first time really playing nickel in my career, so I’m still learning,” Hill said. “But it’s an opportunity, and I thought it was a great opportunity when the coaches came and presented it to me as my position this year. So I’m just trying to go out there and be the best version of myself that I can be at that position.”
Now in his seventh NFL season, the 29-year-old Hill is accustomed to using his versatility to find his way onto the field.
At 5-11 and 183 pounds, Hill has been a spot starter on the outside for the Rams since 2016 before being inserted into the starting lineup for good at the end of last season.
Hill has played in 59 games in the NFL, starting 25 of those, and totaled five career interceptions and 20 pass breakups.
However, with as much passing teams do in the league these days, a slot defender is essentially a starter. And Hill has missed just two defensive snaps in two games so far this season.
Rams head coach Sean McVay said Hill was a natural for the position.
“Troy has translated and really transitioned into that spot so seamlessly,” McVay said. “We’re doing a couple things differently schematically that do stress that position and I think Troy has done an outstanding job.
“He’s only going to get better, but when you look at all the nuances that we’re asking of him and how he's played over the first couple of weeks, it’s definitely been a good move.”
Hill said he got to watch his former teammate Robey-Coleman when he was with the Rams last season to help with the transition. He also watched Marlon Humphrey for the Baltimore Ravens during the offseason because he plays both inside and outside corner.
“I feel like at nickel everything happens faster because you’re in the mix,” Hill said. “At corner, I played it my whole life so I kind of understand the routes and the stems and everything.
“So it’s just adjusting to that, and I’m low-key like a linebacker at times, too. So trying to be in that box and fighting off these linemen -- things like that, so it’s kind of different for me. But I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the process.”
Rams defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant has his players go through detailed, pattern matching drills at the start of each practice in preparation for the upcoming team so that players can practice against route combinations, helping them better anticipate receivers coming out of the top of their routes on game day.
Cornerback Darious Williams said that drill work helped him anticipate and pick off Carson Wentz last week when he tried the drive the ball through tight coverage to receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone.
“It’s big because in different coverages you have different assignments, and every pattern is not going to play out the same,” Hill said. “It helps us a lot to understand our technique, how it should look and if it’s correct. Like I said, we’re still learning this new defense, and how it’s supposed to be. So that’s just big for us and our confidence.”
Hill and the rest of L.A.’s defense will have their hands full this week, dealing with the strong arm of Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ plethora of talented receivers that include Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and John Brown.
The Bills lead the NFL in passing yards with 360 per contest. Allen has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 729 passing yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Allen threw for 417 yards in a 31-28 win over the Miami Dolphins last week, and has the Bills at 2-0.
So has Hill turned his attention to the dangerous Bills yet?
“It’s too early,” he said.
Instead, Hill would like to linger a little longer on the game ball he received from the Philadelphia game, where he corralled his first interception of the year, finished with a combined eight tackles and got to break down the huddle in the locker room for the first time in his NFL career after a game.
“It was exciting, to be honest,” Hill said. “It’s just one of those moments where I’m living a dream right now. I can really take it in and say I’m living the dream and I’m blessed.
“That’s really where (my mind) goes to. And I have to give all the glory to God for that, because I came from nothing. A lot of people doubt, but I’m still working my way up. And I’m still grinding and getting better every day, trying to age like fine wine (laughs).”